Whether you’re planning a quick hop across the channel or several weeks riding through Europe, our checklist will guide you through, so before you book your tickets, let's have a look at what you need to sort out before you go, and what paperwork you'll need from the time you roll off the ferry (other means of cross-channel travel are available)…
Here's the stuff you need to stay legal on the continent, regardless of where you're headed – we’ll look at the specific needs of France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Ireland, and Switzerland further down the page.
Incidentally, most countries will require originals of documents not photocopies, but you might want to photocopy them anyway and keep the copies to hand for casual checks; if they want originals, you can dig them out if needed.
1: Passport: And make sure it's valid. That doesn't mean just 'not expired yet', and there’s confusion here: according to the UK Government's advice, for travel into the EU your passport has to have at least six months' validity on the day of outward travel and have been issued less than ten years previously. Quite where they get the six months from, we don't know - the actual EU requirement is that it must have at least three months' validity on your planned return date (not outward date).
The fact that your passport must be less than ten years old may be an issue for some UK passport holders; if you last renewed your passport well in advance and had the remaining months of your old one added, then you might seem to be okay for whichever length of validity you choose to go with but still fall foul of the 10-year rule, so double check... If you need a new one, don't delay – at time of writing applications were taking up to three months!
2: Licence: There’s no need for an International Driving Permit (IDP) as your UK Licence is still valid. The exceptions are if you're still holding an old-style paper licence rather than a photocard, or if your licence was issued in Gibraltar, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man. In those cases, you will need a 1968 IDP to ride legally in most EU/EEA countries (including France and Germany, but not Spain). For information on global IDP requirements, visit the government website here.
3: Bike documents: You need to carry the bike's V5c (log book) and MoT certificate at all times. If you're not the legal owner (for example if the bike's on finance) then you may need a form V103 to prove you have permission from the owner to take it out of the country. If you don't have the V5c at all you'll need a V103B as well to show in its place. Contact the finance company well in advance if in doubt.
4: Insurance: You no longer need a Green Card to ride in the European Union, but you will need your insurance certificate (again, not a copy, though if it’s supplied digitally, you can print it out).
5: GB sticker: Yes, the old GB plate makes its return. It’s compulsory now in the EU unless your number plate already carries a 'GB' identifier AND a Union flag.
6: Travel/breakdown insurance: This is not obligatory, but it is highly recommended, and should include repatriation for you AND you bike if it's going to be worth having. You need to make sure the policy you choose actually covers you not just for riding bikes, but for the type of bike and the type of riding – you don't want to find out the hard way that it doesn't cover a spot of off-road, for example, or a trip into the Armco at the Nürburgring.
Also check restrictions on pre-existing medical conditions, and double-check the small point on duration of cover – we've heard of cases where riders have been refused claims because they purchased cover from the time they landed abroad, when the small print said they needed cover from the moment they left home...
7: EHIC/GHIC: The EHIC (European Health Insurance Card, which made sure you didn't get stung for a huge hospital bill if it all went tits up) is now defunct, post Brexit (although existing cards are still valid up to their expiry dates), and we thought that was likely to be the end of it. But it's back, now rebranded as the Global Health Insurance Car (GHIC). It's still free, and it still works across Europe!
Again, it's not compulsory to carry one, but you'd be daft not to, given that even a couple of days in hospital could see you owing several grand. If you simply forget to take one you CAN make a claim in retrospect - but you're unlikely to get a full refund.
8. Covid vaccine passport: UK residents who are registered with a GP in England and over the age of 16 can get an NHS Covid Pass for travel abroad after receiving either two doses of the Moderna, AstraZeneca or Pfizer vaccine, one dose of the Janssen vaccine or with proof of natural immunity shown by a positive PCR test result for COVID-19, lasting for 180 days after the date of the positive test and following completion of the self-isolation period.
You can usually get your NHS Covid Pass within 24 hours of vaccination, but it can take up to five days for your records to be updated.
Your Covid Pass is accessed via the NHS app, available for iOS and Android, but that’s not to be confused with the Test and Trace app. You can also access your pass through the NHS website, or request one is posted to you – for more information, visit the government website.
9: A calendar: Or at least an eye on dates if you're a frequent traveller. Post-Brexit, UK bikers are under the same rules as other non-EU citizens. That means you're limited to 90 days in the Schengen area in any 180-day period. Maybe not a problem for most visitors nipping over for a holiday, but if your work takes you abroad a lot AND you want to holiday in the EU as well, it can quickly add up.
10: Visa waiver: Maybe. But not yet. In 2022 non-EU visitors might need an ETIAS permit before travel to the EU (European Travel Information and Authorisation System, and similar to the ESTA visa-waiver system for travel to the US). It should only cost around €7 and should be easily available online, but no one knows exactly when it's going to be introduced as it's been delayed by Covid. There appear to be several sites popping up in preparation, so be wary of any that charge over-inflated prices, as is the problem with ESTA. For the latest information, check this UK government page.
11: Tools/spares/puncture kit: Not compulsory, but potentially useful. It’s up to you whether you carry any spares, but a small toolkit is always handy, even if it's only so you can tighten up the odd loose sat-nav mount or trim a frayed luggage strap.
A puncture kit is well worth having too, but completely pointless unless you know how to use it, so make sure you practice a couple of times on an old tyre before you go.
One useful tip - if you have a bike with a single-sided swingarm with one big nut on the hub, it's worth carrying a suitable socket with you; it's easy enough to get a puncture fixed or a new tyre fitted, but not every tyre place or bike shop will have the right socket for your particular bike.
Depending on which countries you're visiting, you may need extra paperwork, equipment and/or knowledge. Here's a start for the most popular destinations for Brit bikers…
France: Even if you're not actually going to France, you’ll probably be passing through and you need to be legal while you're there.
In addition to the main requirements for the EU, France has a few extras:
Probably the most important thing to know before riding in France is how the Priorité à Droite rule works – you'll find a full explanation in our guide to riding in France here.
Make sure you understand Priorité à Droite. Image by Yodaspirine
Spain: Spain's one of our favourite places to ride as there’s little traffic away from the towns, plenty of accommodation, and great food in busy coastal resorts. But head a couple of miles inland and you might not see a soul all day.
And then there's the roads... we can't think of anywhere you get such a variety of tarmac, and so much opportunity to get into an all-day bend-swinging groove. Generally, the list of required papers/kit is the same as for the rest of the EU, but you also need…
There are quite a few other peculiarities and things to watch out for in Spain, including new urban speed limits and rules – see our full guide to riding in Spain here.
Whatever country you visit, always respect the locals
Germany: A very popular destination for UK bikers with great scenery, fine roads, excellent beer and the opportunity to go as fast as you want, legally. What's not to like? Well, not that much, but as you might expect those high speeds come with a warning…
Italy: Italy's a great place to ride – we really must do a full guide on it soon. From the mountains and lakes in the north, through the industrial belt and down to the agricultural south, it's got a bit of everything. Basic paperwork/equipment rules are the same as elsewhere in the EU, with a few additions…
Ireland: The Emerald Isle is in the EU, and we're not, so most of the same advice applies as elsewhere in the EU, right down to needing a GB sticker. But bizarrely you don't necessarily need a passport – your photocard driving licence should suffice. We'd take a passport anyway, just in case.
Once there, you'll find beautiful scenery, friendly people, lovely winding roads (but beware wildlife, farm animals and agricultural vehicles – it's not a place to go fast) and good beer. Well worth the trip.
Check out our guide to riding in Ireland here.
We didn’t have any photos of someone having fun riding in Switzerland, so here’s another one from Spain
Switzerland: Switzerland's far too law-abiding to be fun on a bike for very long, although it does have some magnificent scenery of course. Mainly it's just easier to go through it than around it when you're on your way to Italy, Austria or places further East (speaking of which, have a look at our guide to riding in Croatia here.
Although it's not part of the EU (or the EEA for that matter), Switzerland has signed treaties that mean riding there is pretty much the same as in the EU. Be aware that Switzerland operates a Prorité à Droite rule, like France, which can catch out the unwary. For a full explanation see our guide to France here.
Apart from that, the main thing is to get a Vignette for the motorways if you're planning to use them; you can get one at most garages or at the border, or online in advance for around 40 euros. Get stopped on the motorway without one and it's a big fine. Speeding fines are also big – around 200 quid for a minor offence – so be careful. Also, don't park up on the pavement - more big fines... In fact, let’s refer you back to Spain…